PULASKI COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Solar energy is looking to make its mark in Pulaski County.
Several farmers and private landowners have agreed to lease their land to Hecate Energy, a company based out of Chicago, to establish a large-scale solar farm in the county.
“There’s no eminent domain that’s a part of this,” said County Administrator Jonathan Sweet. “None of this project is going on county property; it’s all going on private land. It’s not being taken or sold. It’s being leased.”
The lease is set at 35 years, and Sweet says the economic benefits for landowners and the county is exciting.
“It’s very exciting what that means from an economic development standpoint, from a next-level business recruitment standpoint, not to mention the direct new revenue stream and indirect new revenue from increased value in taxable assets,” Sweet said.
In total, the project is estimated at $400 million and will cover, roughly, 2,700 acres of farmland.
Hecate held an open house Tuesday evening at Pulaski County High School, and reports the solar farm will generate an additional $420,000 in annual tax revenue and $15 million over the 35-year span of the lease.
“These revenue streams could go to do things like investments in a state-of-the-art recreation center,” Sweet used as an example.
Combined with the county’s current green energy operations and the Alternative Energy Program at New River Community College, Sweet has high hopes for where this project could take Pulaski County.
“We could be one of the greenest counties in the country, per capita, definitely one of the greenest counties on the Eastern Seaboard,” Sweet said.
However, not everyone is thrilled of Hecate coming to take 2,700 acres of land.
“They’re taking prime farmland out of agricultural production,” said Joe Meek, a Pulaski County cattle farmer.
Meek owns around 100 acres just north of Dublin. He says when Hecate began calling landowners to strike a deal on leases, he made sure he wasn’t one of those landowners.
“A member of the Board of Supervisors called me, and I made it clear that I was not interested,” Meek said.
Meek is a part of the Facebook group Save Pulaski County Farms, which started only last week and now has more than 100 members against the project.
“We don’t want to come across as, you know, trying to tell somebody else what they can do with their land, but this project will impact the whole neighborhood,” Meek said.
It’s not Meek’s land, after all, and the owners of it will do with it as they please, but in the end Meek is left with a different view from his front porch than what it was when he bought the property in 2003.
“Our house is on this hill. We have a tremendous view, all the way to Cloyd’s Mountain,” Meek said. “I guess we’ll have to look over the solar panels to see the mountain.”
He’s worried the project will also decrease his property value and says he wasn’t given a clear answer, when asked, at Tuesday’s open house.
“Well, there was no answer,” he said. “Multiple people brought it up, and the answer that they gave over the Zoom meeting was that the Commissioner of Revenue or someone in that office didn’t think that it would impact the land value. But there have been no studies supporting that claim.”
Sweet’s view of the town hall is almost the opposite.
“We (the county) feel they did a pretty good job of explaining to the public what this project is,” Sweet said. “From feedback we heard from a lot of folks, they were actually enlightened by the meeting and answered a lot of their questions.”
The project is not set in stone just yet.
Hecate still needs to have their special use permit application approved by the county planning commission and then the Board of Supervisors.
The planning commission’s meeting and public hearing will be held Jan. 12, 2021.
“I think everyone wants to have their opinion heard,” Meek said.
Public hearing questions/comments can be sent to Pulaski County’s Planning & Zoning Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.